COLUMBUS: Urban Meyer’s first season as Ohio State’s football coach ended with an incomplete grade Saturday, even though the Buckeyes defeated archrival Michigan 26-21.
It is not Meyer’s fault that his team was barred by the NCAA from playing in the Big Ten Championship Game and a noteworthy bowl. The indiscretions that led to punitive action occurred under the watch of Meyer’s predecessor, Jim Tressel, who also led OSU to a national championship.
So the Buckeyes’ 12-0 season serves mostly to keep the program in limbo until the 2013 season, when Meyer can take his team to any bowl game in the country, if presented with the opportunity.
All season, Meyer insisted that Ohio State did not deserve to be mentioned as a BCS championship contender. This is a good team, not a great team, he would say. Or he would announce to the media almost weekly that his team had “holes.”
On Saturday, he altered his message. Because the Buckeye defense has grown in stature, he said, this team can play and compete with any team in the country. He fell short of saying that OSU should be No. 1 and probably on purpose.
So was Meyer being honest in emphasizing the Buckeyes’ flaws or when he gave them a promotion after beating the Wolverines? Or maybe he meant what he said each and every week.
Does it matter? Maybe. Nobody knows the team better than the coach, and his description of its capabilities should be a clue as to what fans should expect in 2013.
Meyer already was thinking about next year as he answered questions about Saturday’s win.
“To be 12-0, it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “Our house is going to be empty. After our team meeting on Tuesday, we start a new journey.”
A coach never really rests, because there’s always a new journey.
First of all, expectations for Ohio State are forever extremely high, and for good reason. The team has consistently been among the top 10 for decades. Moreover, Meyer’s arrival in Columbus only heightened the giddiness of Buckeye nation.
But reality will prevail no matter how much the team’s partisans yearn for glorious perfection.
That includes the fact that Ohio State loses seven important players to graduation on the defensive side alone: linemen John Simon, Garrett Goebel and Nate Williams; linebackers Storm Klein and Zach Boren plus defensive backs Orhian Johnson and Travis Howard. Moreover, cornerback Bradley Roby has admitted he might flee to the NFL.
Most of the offense returns, with the exception of tackle Reid Fragel and receiver Jake Stoneburner.
Fans love it when they know the guys who rack up the yardage and score the points are coming back for another year. The only worry among OSU alumni is that the Big Ten will pass a rule disallowing Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde from playing because of the risk of irreversible trauma to enemy defenses.
OK, so the offense should be solid, at the very least. But keep in mind that against Wisconsin and at times against Michigan, receivers had problems getting open down field. Moreover, Miller, who showed an uncanny skill at making tacklers miss, was mostly stymied against the Badgers and Wolverines, whose only mission defensively was to stop him.
So the offense is likely to change. Against Michigan, Meyer’s quarterback-centric attack became more balanced with Hyde getting most of the carries and Miller settling in as a passer, though usually not from the pocket.
The point is that what we saw for most of the season is apt to be different in 2013. It might change for the better; maybe not, though it is probably safe to trust Meyer’s judgment.
Of necessity, the defense will change, because a different group of players will be on the field. It’s almost always a plus to field a team loaded with seniors, and the Buckeyes will bring back current juniors (defensive tackle) Johnathan Hankins, (defensive backs) Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett and Corey Brown.
But there will be plenty of inexperience, too, though talent should be abundant.
“We have a bunch of recruits in the meeting room again,” Meyer said Saturday. “The whole theme this week is go where the air is rare. The loudest door is a big one. Open it, kick it open, do what you have to get through that door. Once you’re in there, it smells different, it tastes and looks different.”
Should Ohio State fans anticipate a better season next year? Does Meyer have to go 13-0 to meet expectations? Let’s give him a break. How about 12-1 with a win in the BCS title game? That’s not a problem is it, Urban?